Tuesday, September 20, 2016

A Malaise in Malawi

The World Atlas ranked Malawi as the poorest country in the world. Just last month, the Center for Strategic & International Studies reported that Malawi is facing its worst humanitarian crisis in its history as widespread maize harvest failures have created massive food shortages. Over half the nation’s population needs food relief to survive through the beginning of next year. In Malawi, poverty and hunger go hand in hand. In many ways, the nation is quite blessed — it has natural resources, a climate that isn’t extreme, a large and bountiful lake, and a peaceful history without threat of war. And still, Malawi forever clings to the top of the list of the world’s poorest countries.

The enemy is not poor maize harvests, poor healthcare, poor education, or even poor government. These are serious problems, but they aren’t the enemy. Thousands of Malawi villages are struggling with water sources that are close to disappearing and food supplies that have already run out. People are starving. Four decades of intervention, and look how far we haven’t come.

The real enemy is how the world tries to help. Specifically:
1. The system that demands foreign aid be funneled through the government or large NGOs
2. The system that creates a hierarchy of aid and government workers whose job security and quality of life depends not on their wanting what is good on the ground, but pleasing whoever is above them in rank
3. The system that discriminates against on-the-ground, local initiatives because of a lack academic credentials, English-speaking skills, and the ability to complete unwieldy applications and fulfill misguided metric targets

If Malawi is to win the war against poverty, it needs to face the truth and admit that the system has not not worked in Malawi.  In a country where local government clinics have no malaria medicines because it all gets siphoned off before it reaches the people on the ground, isn’t it crazy to stick to a system that hasn’t worked for decades? The world helps Malawi’s hungry population by distributing hundreds of thousands of bags of food. It’s a shame that the system is too unwieldy to accommodate a long-term, local, and low cost solution, no matter how well it has proven to work.

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